What Are Students? We Just Don’t Know

I’m taking a pedagogy course at the moment, a term-long follow-up to the one-week intro course I took in the spring. The course begins with yet another pedagogical innovation, a “pre-project”. Before the course has really properly started, we get assembled into groups and told to investigate our students. We are supposed to do interviews on a few chosen themes, all with the objective of getting to know our students better. I’m guessing the point is to sharpen our goals, so that when we start learning pedagogy we’ll have a clearer idea of what problems we’d like to solve.

The more I think about this the more I’m looking forward to it. When I TAed in the past, some of the students were always a bit of a mystery. They sat in the back, skipped assignments, and gradually I saw less and less of them. They didn’t go to office hours or the help room, and I always wondered what happened. When in the course did they “turn off”, when did we lose them? They seemed like a kind of pedagogical dark matter, observable only by their presence on the rosters. I’m hoping to detect a little of that dark matter here.

As it’s a group project, we came up with a theme as a group, and questions to support that theme (in particular, we’re focusing on the different experiences between Danes and international students). Since the topic is on my mind in general though, I thought it would be fun to reach out to you guys. Educators in the comments: if you could ask your students one question, what would it be? Students, what is one thing you think your teachers are missing?

2 thoughts on “What Are Students? We Just Don’t Know

  1. AZ

    The topic of “dark matter students” always troubles me, but maybe I have some anecdotal advice. In the event that I break through to one of them and get them to talk to me, it often turns out that they were pretty good high-school students, but they’ve never studied before (ever), and legitimately have never really comprehended the concept of studying, and are starting to struggle for the first time ever—which is very often not their fault, it happens sometimes in education, right? They end up shutting down and don’t seek help because, not knowing that studying is a thing, they think “well, nobody else puts in extra work, but they still understand the material, so maybe I’m just not very smart” and they slowly fall out, not realizing that their colleagues are studying hard.

    I noticed this a few years back when I mentioned to a student that, unlike some fields, thorough reading of the textbook is mandatory to succeed in physics. They were absolutely stunned, and had never even thought of purchasing (let alone reading) a college textbook. \textbf{They thought that lectures were meant to be sufficient to succeed}, and that nobody bought the textbook. They ended up recovering somewhat after that. I now have this same conversation with a lot of students.

    Maybe it’s anecdotal, but I’ve helped maybe 5 students recover from the “dark matter student” phase over half a decade with this. So my one questions is…

    “Have you purchased (or otherwise acquired) the textbook?”

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